- Supernatural threats to kings: exploration of a motif in the Ulster Cycle and in other medieval Irish tales
- 2nd International Conference on the Tales of the Ulster Cycle of Tales
- Book/source title
- Ulidia 2: proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Ulster Cycle of Tales, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 24-27 June 2005
- Pages (from-to)
- An Sagart
- Document type
- Conference contribution
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam Institute for Humanities Research (AIHR)
The subject of this contribution is the belief in a sacral bond between the land and the ruler. This belief is connected with the concept known as ‘sacral kingship’, which is found in many cultures.
In the Tenach or Old Testament, for instance, the king is supposed to be chosen by God and anointed by a prophet before he is installed as a king. Kingship is linked with the divine in this way. If the relationship between God and king is purportedly disrupted, then another king may replace the king who falls out of favour. Disruption in the Old Testament is often caused by the transgression of the divine laws. When king and people sin against these laws, God is said to send signs in the form of punishments in order to make king and people stop sinning and return to the law of God. Foreign invasions are the most notable among these signs.
In medieval Irish texts, sacral kingship implies that the king should be just, truthful, wise, courageous and generous; he should keep his gessi, ‘taboos’, have no blemish on his body or honour, and excel in physical appearance and martial prowess. If these rules of sacral kingship are violated, the land suffers and the literature connects the unfortunate fate of the land in a causal link with the ill-performing king. Sometimes this purported cause (violated sacral kingship) and effect (damage to the land) seem to be connected in an automatic way; sometimes they are believed to be linked through explicitly mentioned supernatural sanctions. Important studies by Tomás Ó Cathasaigh and Tom Sjöblom show that often a contract with the Otherworld is portrayed as the basis of kingship. This contribution builds on the work of these scholars by offering a preliminary survey of the relationship between the supernatural, the king, the land and ‘foreign’ invasions.
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